The Indie Side: Elephantmen

Richard Starkings and his team have been creating some of the most beautiful comics on Earth for years now. The attention to detail on each and every volume is spectacular, the craftmanship all but stamped on the cover. I think a lot of people, though, miss out on the best part of Richard’s work.

The books themselves, Elephantmen from Image Comics has been consistently brilliant for years. Richard has created a world of hybrids and humans searching for meaning in a world that long ago has given up any aspirations for logic. Who knew that the most striking noir heroes of our time would be a hippo and an elephant in fedoras?

Richard manages to harness the strength of the world around his characters to tell stories that are Sci-Fi only by nature of their setting, but, straight forward drama by way of the roundness of the characters. When a little girl approaches our Elephant protaganist, we know that he’ll do her no harm, while simultaneously being wrapped up in the fact that she (unintentionally) is bound to do him nothing but.

The art is a treasure all on it’s own, introducing (or strengthening) some of the most unique European influenced artists in the world including Ladronn and Moritat. Plus, he’s gotten a treasure trove of guest creators throughout the years ranging from young up and comer Chris Burnham to the amazing Kurt Busiek.

Hands down, Elephantmen is a prize example of the type of stories our medium can tell. With an infinite budget, we no longer are trapped telling sci-fi stories about explosions and clone farms. Instead, you get delicate character drama wrapped in some damn fine mystery storytelling.

You can find out more about Elephantmen at


To go along with each of these short reviews, I’m going to do my best to also give you some perspective on what it takes to actually make it in comics, in the form of some short interviews with the week’s talent. So, here is myself with Mr. Richard Starkings.

Joshua Hale Fialkov: You've had an amazing path in this industry, you think you can boil it down into a paragraph? If so, do it!

Richard Starkings: Woo. Let me see… I started out as a cartoonist and self publisher at the tender age of 17… for many years I contributed a Doctor Who gag strip to TARDIS, the monthly, um, organ of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. I published four Doctor Who fanzines of my own and a collection of the strips, Who and Crew. At college I contributed a Jules Feifferesque strip called Then Again to the student union paper Red Herring and developed my own strip, Hedge Backwards when I moved to America. In amongst my doodling I landed work as a lettering artist on the latter issues of Dez Skinn's Warrior strip magazine and thereafter Marvel UK's fortnightly Transformers comic, 2000 AD, Detective Comics with Alan Davis and Batman: The Killing Joke with Moore and Bolland. I was very much a fan-turned-pro and working at Marvel UK was Seventh Heaven… within a couple of years I was group editor of the Boys' Adventure titles and supervised weeklies such as Secret Wars, The Real Ghostbusters, Thundercats, Action Force (G.I. Joe in the UK) and the monthly Doctor Who comic strip, which I occasionally wrote under the pen name Richard Alan. Just before moving from London to New York, I launched three US style comics, Dragon's Claws, Death's Head and The Sleeze Brothers, that last being the only Marvel UK creator owned Epic title. During my time at Marvel UK I broke talent like Bryan Hitch, Dougie Braithwaite, Dan Abnett, Liam Sharp and Andy Lanning, although obviously my career dwarfs theirs now, right?

Comicraft came about because I just couldn't bring myself to hack out pen lettering for Marvel and DC — I wanted to preserve the quality of my work and deliver on time. A friend of mine taught me how to use Fontographer and Illustrator and from there the sprawling Comicraft era began. Good times. But, it was always my intention to create my own comic and self publish, I just had to cut my way through the nineties to realize that goal. Elephantmen is that comic.

JHF: What I love most about you, Richard, is that you treat your art like a business and your business like an art. How important is it to balance your creative juice with your dollars and (common) sense?

RS: Well, it is essential, right? Otherwise, it's not a business, it's a vanity project. I do realize that we live in strange times… people have way more titles to choose from and the biggest selling titles in our industry really don't sell very well compared to the 80's or 90's… I'm lucky in that I've learned many different aspects of comic book production over the years — Elephantmen was the very first title presented by Comixology, folks –and I have the incredible support of Eric Stephenson, Erik Larsen and Robert Kirkman at Image Comics, so Elephantmen has survived even though I'm quite certain we would have been dropped on current numbers if this was ten years ago.

I also enjoy being at shows, and selling my book one-to-one, one copy at a time. I think readers enjoy meeting creators, as I once did when I stood in line for four hours to meet Brain Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Alan Grant and Mick McMahon for the very first Judge Dredd annual signing. You can learn a lot, not only from other creators at shows but also from readers and retailers, so shows are an essential part of creating the comics. I'm also deeply endebted to everyone "behind the scenes" at Image — Tyler, Todd, Jonathan, Drew, Branwyn, Sarah, Monica, Vincent, Emily, Jana, Kevin and everyone that worked their in the past — their energy, enthiusiasm and devotion to the books is unflagging — and also they make pies and cupcakes for visiting creators. How cool and homely is that? Whenever I stop by and look over recent releases over there, I'm astonished and proud of the eclectic mix of titles.

Oh, and I love you too, Josh.

JHF: In Elephantmen you've taken a gigantic idea and made it feel exceptionally grounded and realistic, telling stories with huge brains AND heart. Where do you think that comes from? Is it from having the world so well established in your mind that you can just let the characters do their own thing?

RS: Yes, I try not to overthink the whys and the wherefores, but I have come to realize that the big, big story is stored in all the nooks and crannies in my head. Often all I need to tap into that story is a nice long walk on the beach at about 7am.

If my stories have heart, I think it's because my Mum has such a big heart, and I like to think that I take after her, or perhaps I'm writing stories that might move her, even if she doesn't read Elephantmen. I'm not a big fan of superheroes per se, and have always gravitated to relationship based science fiction stories like Doctor Who, Star Trek or The X-Files; and I do feel strongly that Superman, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and The Hulk are at their best when they are relationship based science fiction stories, otherwise we wouldn't care about the death of Johnny Storm, right?

During my childhood, my parents made many trips to Africa on business, and a few years ago I went to visit my parents and realized that I had grown up surrounded my images and artifacts of African animals. Clearly my subsconscious had assimilated these in amongst all the Science Fiction movies and TV shows I'd watched as a teen and reassembled them as Elephantmen. Go look in my Facebook photo gallery! My Mum watched wildlife documentaries with us, my Dad watched action movies and my oldest brother had a collection of over seven thousand Marvel and DC comics… fold the ingredients together and bake for twenty years.

JHF: Obviously, your company, Comicraft, is known for it's amazing packaging and design. How important do you think all of that is for independent comics, especially in this digital age?

RS: Well, it IS important and I often see books that have forgotten that comics books need to be cool and accessible. I sometimes forget that myself because it's easy to miss the wood for the trees on your own book. I love what Hickman did on his Image books, and Brandon Graham's King City comics have a wonderful, personal design sensibility. Brian Wood is another writer/designer that knows exactly what he's doing, but there are some pretty horrible looking books out there lately and a lot of them are mainstream titles that are being put together inhouse without a coherent graphic vision. You can always pick out covers from DC's output that Mark Chiarello has had a hand in because he has such a good eye for the combination of art and design. The designer at Oni Press is pretty sharp too. There are good designers out there! Obviously our very own Secret Weapon, John JG Roshell has a very healthy track record too. But boy, is he expensive!

JHF: What's next on the creator owned front for you? I can't wait to see what the big fedora'd brain comes up with next.

RS: I'm always astonished by the speed and enthusiasm with which writers like Mark Millar, Grant Morrison and my favourite, John Wagner, turn out new characters, concepts and ideas. My head is firmly stuck in the world of the Elephantmen right now and I feel as if I've barely scratched the surface. Even though you're only seeing one issue of Elephantmen each month, I currently have ten different artists — Axel Medellin, Ladrönn, Dan McDaid, Tony Parker, Marley Zarcone, Marian Churchland, Brandon Graham, Cammy d'Errico, Jenny Frison and Boo Cook — working on stories and covers… and aside from the fact that I letter each issue, generate all the editorial features in the monthlies and the collections, work closely with John JG Roshell on the design AND attend about eight shows a year to promote the book, that's plenty to be getting on with.

JHF: Any plugs?

Plenty, I even have a special one that converts American two pronged plugs to an to English three pronged plug.

Elephantmen: Cover Stories in stores now! Elephantment Volume 4 in stores next month… Man and Elephantman second printing in stores May 4th, Elephantmen #31 May 11th!

Joshua Hale Fialkov is the Eisner, Harvey, and Emmy Award nominated writer and co-creator of the comic ELK’S RUN, TUMOR, ECHOES, and PUNKS THE COMIC. He highly recommends that you pre-order your comics, unless you are just happy being the problem and not part of the solution. You can find more about him at


  1. I picked up the entire (available) run on Comixology during one of their sales, it’s been a joy reading through it. One of the most imaginative and one of the best looking series around.

  2. This is a strong series indeed.  I waver with it back and forth.  The tone of a majority of the series is really great, and the stories are engaging. 

  3. I haven’t read all of it, but what I have is exceptional.

  4. If you ever have a chance to meet Starkings or Moritat at an Elephantman booth at a con, go by and pick up a book.  I’ve been to cons they were at and you won’t meet a pair of more enthusiastic guys.  And they were still brimming with energy at the end of the show.  Amazing work, amazing people, amazing book.

  5. I just jumped on to this book and I have to say I am glad that i did. Great art and story. Pick it up if you havent already.

  6. I can’t thank y’all enough for this article/interview. Elephantmen and Richard Starking!!!!
    Throw in Frank Zappa and a nude/consentual Carla Gugino, and there’s Duncan Idunno’s perfect Deserted Island scenario.

  7. I just read the first issue on their site.  It was interesting.  I’m going to pick-up the TPB today.

  8. A fantastic series and a great article too!  Always happy to see this book getting more exposure.